Sunday, July 12, 2009


When it comes to dips, you really can't beat Middle Eastern cuisine. With their rich tradition of appetizers (meze), the countries of the Middle East have come up with a huge collection of fantastic foods to put on a pita - hummus, tzatziki, baba ghanoush, skordalia, and on and on... Muhammara is yet another one of these dips: a delicious combination of red peppers and walnuts that is perfect to make now as red peppers are just coming into season.

Though it's a bit labor-involved if you don't have a food processor, muhammara keeps really well, so I usually just make a ton and freeze the stuff I don't eat in a few days. Before you eat it, just move it to the refrigerator a day before. It's wonderful to make some in the fall and then enjoy it in the middle of winter when you've all but forgotten how a good pepper tastes!

4 large red bell peppers
250 g. walnuts
A spoonful of cumin seeds
A couple cloves of garlic
Lemon juice from half a lemon
A few spoonfuls of olive oil
Hot pepper flakes
Pomegranate molasses

Preheat the oven to 350º F / 180º C. Wash the peppers, cut off the stems, and remove the seeds and white bits as best you can without actually cutting into the peppers. Roast the peppers in the oven for about 45 minutes, giving them a quarter turn approximately every 10 minutes, until the skins are all black and blistered. Remove the peppers from the oven and let cool.

Toast the cumin seeds and then separately toast the walnuts. Peel the garlic cloves and, using a mortar and pestle if possible, crush them together with the salt and the cumin seeds until you get a brownish paste.

Peel the peppers, and scrape away any remaining white bits or seeds. If using a food processor, combine the peppers with the walnuts, garlic-cumin mixture, pepper flakes, lemon juice, olive oil, and pomegranate molasses, and process away.

If making muhammara the old-fashioned way, grind the walnuts and the peppers separately by pounding down on them with a potato masher for a very very long time. Then add the peppers to the walnuts, pound a bit more, and stir in the garlic-cumin mixture, pepper flakes, lemon juice, olive oil, and pomegranate molasses. Taste and make any necessary seasoning adjustments.

Cover the muhammara well and refrigerate for at least an hour - it's better to make this a day in advance though, so the flavors have time to really blend. When it's ready, serve with pita or other bread.